The name Moby Grape comes from an absurdist punch line: What’s big, purple and swims in the ocean? But the band that influenced groups ranging from Led Zeppelin to The Pretenders was no joke. Neither was its 1967 debut, according to Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke.
“It’s one of the few rock ‘n’ roll albums of any era that you can say, ‘That is a perfect debut album.’ The songwriting on it is memorable — you take those songs with you wherever you go. The triple-guitar orchestration… it’s not just power chords. Everyone is playing melodies and counter-melodies and rhythms. Very funky, also very country, very punk, very surf. And they were all singers.”
When other San Francisco bands were stretching out with long, psychedelic jams, Moby Grape was producing catchy three-minute songs that were composed, played and sung by each member. Moby Grape’s drummer, Don Stevenson, calls the songwriting process a “collective consciousness.”
That “collective consciousness” was a little surprising, since these five guys had little history and a lot of differences. Guitarist Peter Lewis and bassist Bob Mosley came from Southern California surf bands. Stevenson and guitarist Jerry Miller played in organ trios around Seattle. Canadian-born Skip Spence had just left another San Francisco band, Jefferson Airplane. Yet all five members produced remarkably cohesive vocal harmonies.